Do parents need to start using tough love?

WHERE once kids were caned for misbehaving in class, these days they are praised for simply turning up to school. We've gone from one extreme to the other.

In the decades leading up to the 1995 banning of corporal punishment in Queensland government schools, were children more inclined to respect, if sometimes fear, their teachers? Did they feel similarly about police officers and others in positions of authority, including parents and grandparents?

In trying to atone for past abuses that invariably arose when an angry adult meted out too much "discipline", we've become too soft on kids. In trying to become our children's friends, we've blurred the lines that must exist if young people are to learn respect for others and take responsibility for their actions.

Let me give you a few examples.

A mate of mine is principal of a large state high school in Brisbane.

Her biggest challenge is not the kids - it's the parents who refuse to buy into their children's learning. If homework isn't done or behaviour is unacceptable, mum or dad either shrug it off or tell the school it's their problem to fix.

At a private primary school on the Gold Coast, another friend says parents refuse to believe their little darlings could do any wrong. Teachers are picking on the child.

It gets worse. Last year the Queensland Government took the unprecedented step of introducing a Respect Our Staff campaign after 150 parents were banned from schools because of violence or threats of violence

It's not surprising, given such brilliant role modelling, that in the same year 174 teachers received compensation after being assaulted by students.

Police officers also are targets of people who have failed to learn that laws exist for a reason, and that actions have consequences. Consider the number of officers pelted with bricks or beer bottles when called to rein in underage drinkers at riotous street parties, or who are spat on when dealing with hoons on our roads.

As Senior Sergeant Steven Peck, Officer in Charge of the Mt Ommaney Road Policing Unit, told me recently: "Thirty years ago, if I brought little Johnny home for doing something wrong, parents would say, 'Thank you, officer. Get inside, son, we'll deal with you later!' but now they say, 'Did these coppers hurt you?'."

Effective discipline doesn't require physical punishment but it does require setting boundaries and enforcing limits. It means teaching children that life doesn't always go their way, and that's OK.

Child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says the trend of "wussifying" children has reached the point of ridiculousness. We have created "a wave of little princes and princesses who know no boundaries and never hear the word 'no'", he says. "We see their tantrums in restaurants, airports and shops and they are often pacified with an iPad or a phone game."

New research from Harvard University says narcissism is bred early as adults fail to admonish children and instead shower them with hollow praise.

This leads young people to think they are better than everyone else, and that rules or social mores do not apply to them. This cannot end well.

Here we are in 2017, with a generation of young Australians struggling on many fronts.

As academic standards slip against international benchmarks, violence is on the rise.

Figures from the Australian Institute of Criminology show teenagers aged 15 to 19 are the nation's most dangerous people, carrying out the greatest number of bashings, robberies, abductions and sexual attacks.

At the same time, suicide rates among 15-24 year olds are at their highest in 10 years, according to youth mental health service Orygen.

Some people blame social media, and there is evidence that it breeds narcissism and an inflated sense of self at the expense of the wellbeing of others.

I believe it is not one thing, but a combination of factors that shapes the way children develop.

In the past, as now, parents and educators play pivotal roles, but so does community culture - if society does not value respect and acceptance of personal responsibility, how are kids expected to do so?

I am not suggesting a return to the days when children were beaten for doing the wrong thing - the horror stories readers shared after my column last week on my abuse by Catholic nuns shows this is not the answer - but we have to find the right measure of tough love that teaches kids that failure and disappointment are growth opportunities.

Kylie Lang is an associate editor at The Courier-Mail.

This article originally appeared on The Courier-Mail's Rendezview and has been republished here with permission.

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